A rash of pedestrian deaths in the GTA this month - 14, the latest being a woman dragged and killed by a Dodge Durango - has undoubtedly raised the question: Who's to blame?
Is it the driver, with a heavy foot on the gas? Are the police and cities not doing enough around enforcement or in creating safe zones for those on foot? Or is it the distracted person on foot, who believes he has the right of way?
The answer: All of the above. But it's the pedestrians that should be the most mindful, say traffic safety advocates.
"Everything that distracts a driver, it has the potential of distracting the pedestrian. But the difference is drivers, if they run into a wall or if they run into another car, they've got 3,000 pounds of metal that protects them. Pedestrians, when you walk into a path of something, if it's bigger and heavier it's going to hurt," said Sergeant Tim Burrows of Toronto Police Service's traffic division.
On Monday Juliette Robinson, 38, became the city's eighth pedestrian to die in January when she was thrown over the hood of the Durango and pulled beneath the SUV for several metres, after attempting to cross at Symington Avenue and Davenport Road. A family member said Ms. Robinson, "a determined and attractive woman," had probably just run out to do a quick errand.
Mayor David Miller told reporters yesterday that the city is doing everything it can to avoid further pedestrian fatalities, including completing the installation of countdown signals. But he pleaded with residents to take better care on the roads.
"I think we all need to show common sense," he said. "Whether a driver or a pedestrian makes a mistake, the pedestrian loses. It's about paying attention and recognizing even things like turning right at an intersection can be dangerous to somebody. And we all, whether we're on a bike, whether we're walking or whether we're driving, need to pay close attention."
Councillor Bill Saundercook (Ward 13 High Park) wants councillors to research the most dangerous streets in their wards, with the intent of reducing speed limits on those roadways by 10 kilometres per hour. He put forward the motion to council yesterday, and it is to be debated today.
Ms. Robinson's brother, Everald Dawes, said he hopes her death serves as a cautionary tale for drivers and pedestrians. He also hopes the government takes "drastic measures" to halt the string of fatalities.
"I think all these drivers have to get off their cellphones and slow down, you know? Pay attention. Because you know, you killed somebody there," said the 48-year-old father of two who lives in Scarborough.
"What has happened to our family, I would not like to see that happen to another family out there. Today it's my sister, but tomorrow it could be somebody else."
Experts say a pedestrian can be distracted in many ways: by technology, being in a hurry or deep in thought. Even the time of year can play a role.
Drivers are constantly reminded to keep their eyes on the road, instead of on stereo controls or iPod display screens; to stop chatting on their cellphones or texting. But traffic safety experts say those warnings should to be re-enforced among pedestrians as well, who can't hear the sounds of traffic if the music is blaring or if they're in the midst of a heavy discussion on their cellphone.
"You get so engrossed in everything that is a convenience or the technology favourites and darlings of the day, you forget about the only thing that keeps you alive. That's paying attention and common sense," Sgt. Burrows said.
Deep in conversation
All too often, Sgt. Burrows has witnessed those on foot so engrossed in conversation with friends or deep in thought that they don't even notice the car about to make a turn through an intersection.
"They don't look and catch the queues around them that say whether it's safe or not safe," he said.
The advice is simple: Be aware and look both ways thoroughly before crossing the street.
Lack of proper paranoia
Brian Patterson, president of the Ontario Safety League, cringes every time he hears someone say pedestrians always have the right of way. They don't; the roadways are shared. "The other that I see that always scares me is when people make a really risky choice when the safe choice is right there," he said.
"There is a sense of entitlement and stupidity mixed together, because any time a pedestrian thinks they're going to outwit or outrun a motor vehicle, they're usually wrong," said Louis Francescutti, director emeritus of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research.
A seasonal factor
Could what you wear really put you at risk of being hit by a car? If you're dressed like Kenny from South Park it can.
Sgt. Burrows said the giant hoods may keep you warm, but they also cut off your peripheral vision. Couple that with a set of headphones and both your vision and hearing is at a deficit as you cross a busy intersection, or worse still, jaywalk. It doesn't hurt to turn your head to make sure you're safe before crossing the street.